Assistants-Amount of Capital Required
The business of a florist is one which is very suitable to educated women who possess the right qualifications, but it must be distinctly understood that, fascinating and easy as the work appears from the outside, anyone taking it up with this idea will be speedily disillusioned.
The work, especially at first, is hard and constant; the initial difficulties of building up a connection are greater than in most trades, and, without constant watching, a small capital will melt away before the business has had a chance to become established. Once a good connection is formed things assume a brighter aspect, for the very difficulties which confront the beginner are a safeguard to the established florist, and render her less liable to the surprise of sudden competition.
The qualities required to make a successful florist may be summed up in very few words. They are, briefly, artistic ability and business aptitude, the two combined being, perhaps, not very commonly found in the same person.
Many girls possess the artistic temperament, and have deft and skilful fingers, and, what is more rare, a fine sense of colour and arrangement, but would be hopelessly incapable of buying to advantage, estimating the cost of their contracts, and bargaining with customers, the latter, too, being a very important point if the somewhat elusive profits are to be saved.
In order to learn the business thoroughly it is necessary to serve an apprenticeship for at least two years with a florist who has a good connection in all branches of the work. A first-class London training in a West End shop is suitable for a girl who thinks of starting for herself in almost any district, whether it be a country town, seaside or health resort, or a suburban neighbourhood. But if the cost renders this impracticable it is best to choose a firm engaged in the same class of trade, and in a similar neighbourhood, to that in which she intends to open her own shop.
Premiums vary very much, being usually, in a good firm, from £25 to £30 for a two years' course, but they are sometimes as low as £15 and as high as £50. The apprentice receives a small salary to start with, which is slightly increased in her second year.
Some firms take a girl without a premium for a year, during which time she receives no salary, and has at go on errands and deliver small orders at the customers' houses.
The amount of the premium is, however, by no means the most important consideration, and it may be considered high or low, according to what the firm undertakes to teach. It is essential before going into one's own business to learn first how to buy in the market, and how to estimate the cost of any work undertaken.
For a small premium one can hardly expect this, and only the mechanical part of the work is taught.
The Women's London Gardening Association, 32, Lower Sloane Street, London, S.w. - the head of which is a lady who conducts a very successful florist's establishment-gives an excellent course of training for £25, including instruction in estimating, which the head considers to be most important.
At first the apprentice is initiated into the art of mounting and wiring the flowers, and then, as she becomes more efficient, she proceeds to the more difficult work of making buttonholes and sprays. She is then sent out to assist in decorating tables for dinner-parties, which requires considerable skill in matching the various colours, and involves much fine and delicate work, as in the making of monograms and crests out of flowers, which are placed on the table in front of each guest.
After apprenticeship it is almost always necessary to take a situation as " improver " for one or two years in order to gain further experience, and much may be learned by a girl who keeps her eyes open and is determined to profit by other people's mistakes.
Improvers usually receive about 15s. a week, and if they stay on their salaries may be raised to 25s. or 30s. a week, while first-class hands get £2 2s. a week and more rarely £2 10s., which is, generally speaking, the highest salary paid to women assistants. Whether a girl shall remain as an assistant or go into business for herself depends upon several considerations. To do the latter she must have an adequate capital as well as a good business head.
As was pointed out to the writer by Mr. Carlton White, many girls think they will do much better by opening their own shop, and throw up fairly well-paid posts to do so, but they do not calculate on the incessant worry and strain which confronts anyone trying to establish a new business, and, after sinking the whole of their savings, they are often glad to return to their old employment.
The amount of capital required depends entirely on one's neighbourhood. For a business anywhere in the West End of London, even in a side-street, £1,000 is none too much, and in a suburban or country district, £200 or £300 is the minimum, and £500 is often really required.
In the first place it is a ready-money trade, and no credit can be obtained from the dealers in the market. Then from the very beginning the florist must keep a good show of flowers, even though she has only a few customers, and she must often be content to see a large proportion of her stock wasted day after day, for the display in the windows is what she relies on to build up the connection, and if this is allowed to go down she might as well put up the shutters.
Even when a connection has been formed there is always a certain amount of waste, as a good selection must always be kept; for if an order comes in and you have not the necessary flowers in stock, either the order will be lost and very likely a good customer, too, or you must send out in a hurry and buy at a loss.
Some women, it is true, have been successful although they possessed but a very small capital, but these must be regarded rather as the exceptions. One lady florist, Miss Susan Mather, who has a shop not far from Victoria Street, Westminster, told the writer that she had hardly any capital to start with, but that the struggle was so terrible that she would not advise anyone to go into business in the central parts of London on a capital of less than £1,000. She herself started in a Strand cellar, and, having made a little money, opened a shop near Charing Cross Station. The choice of this locality was fortunate, as, though she found it very hard to compete with the street flower-sellers, who pay no rates and taxes, and, having a syndicate, can buy more cheaply in the market than the ordinary florist, she found a good deal of custom among people visiting their friends in Charing Cross Hospital, who were willing to pay rather better prices than if they were buying flowers for themselves.
Another lady who commenced with very little capital has built up a very successful florist's business at Sydenham. As a rule, it is difficult to establish oneself in the suburbs as a florist pure and simple, and it is generally found necessary to combine this with the sale of fruit, in which case it is almost a necessity to go into partnership with someone else, as one person cannot go to the market to buy the stock of both flowers and fruit, which are on sale at different times, and attend to the shop as well.
Apart from London itself, where a large capital is necessary, the places which offer the best openings are some health resort or seaside place where no good florist already exists. Some country towns, too, offer an excellent opportunity, and there is this advantage-that though one can buy the flowers more cheaply in the country, better prices can also be obtained, owing to the absence of severe competition which is felt in all large centres.
Some suburban neighbourhoods are very good, especially new ones, which are, as a rule, inhabited by well-to-do middle-class people who frequently give dinner-parties and go to the theatres. There is a good deal of table decorating to be done, and also a demand for ladies' sprays, both very lucrative branches of the work.
The Daily Work of a Florist
The florist has to be up betimes in the morning, for, as a rule, flowers are on sale at Covent Garden between eight and half-past nine, when there is a pause till the foreign flowers come in about ten o'clock.
When she has made her purchases, the day's work is but begun. There is no eight hours' limit for her and her assistants. The flowers in her stock want constant attention, and require as much looking after as a nursery of children.
In most businesses when the window has been once "dressed" this work is done for the day, but in a florist's shop it wants constant renewing. Flowers which show signs of fading have to be replaced by others, which often means a good deal of rearranging in order to preserve the harmony of the colour scheme. Roses have to be watered two or three times a day, and other flowers continually sprayed.
Then there is the attending to customers, and the florist has to have all her wits about her in order to avoid offending her clients, and at the same time to resist unjust demands. Ladies dressed in the height of fashion will haggle over a penny in the price of a choice flower or spray. They must have a bargain, and they do not know, and seldom believe when they are told, that the extra penny or twopence to which they object represents the florist's whole profit on the transaction.
It is as manufacturers-that is, as makers of wreaths and other floral decorations-and not as mere flower-sellers, that florists look for the greater portion of their profits, as the latter part of the business is too much cut up by the street sellers to yield much return. If one has a good connection, however, it is possible to make something out of this branch of the business too, only it is necessary for the florist to make herself known for some peculiar excellence. Her flowers must either last longer or be of a finer variety than can be obtained from the outside vendor, and once she can convince her customers of this she can command her prices.
A word in closing may be said about the importance of carefully choosing the position of one's shop before starting. There is a wrong side and a right side to most business streets, and often, for some unknown cause, nearly all the trade is done on one side of the way.
The following is a good institution for the training of girls: Clark's College (Commercial Training).